Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Albuquerque and Back Part 3

I’m sitting in my living room on Monday evening watching an episode of Phinehas and Ferb with my daughter and grandson. For those of you who haven’t ever seen it you really have to check it out. It’s purely mindless entertainment, but very funny.

My wife and I have been back home for three days now. Last Thursday morning we had a great breakfast of quiche and fruit stuffed french toast. We were the only guests for breakfast that morning so we got to have some good conversation with our hostess Kara. We found out she was a former public school teacher who decided many years ago to home school her four children. They are currently between 9 and 15 years old. This was particularly interesting to us since we home schooled our son once he entered high school. He is now successfully navigating his way through school as a college junior.

Anyway we talked with her a little bit about faith, children, and differences in cattle ranching between New Mexico and Michigan. In New Mexico a 5000 acre farm will support about 250 head of cattle. Here in Michigan you can graze that many cattle on a 10th of that area. New Mexico has so much beauty, but it is not green and lush like here in the Midwest states.

After breakfast we made dropped off our rental car and taxied our way of to the train station. The great thing about the train is the simplicity of boarding and finding exactly where you need to go. Basically if you have a ticket in hand you walk outside to the train, find the particular car you are assigned to, show your ticket and get on. They allow a good amount of carry on luggage so many people don’t even check baggage. Even security is minimal. My wife and I have flown many times in our life and Amtrak is by far an easier, more relaxed experience.

The return trip was filled with meeting interesting people too. We had lunch with two elderly ladies from the Los Angeles area, Elsa and Francis who were heading all the way to Massachusetts for a graduation of some kind. Francis is 77 years old and volunteers to help youth in the local park system. My wife lived in that area for several years as a child and so was able to appreciate some of the local references. Francis was very openly religious and conservative in her views. She expounded on the fallacy of wishing someone luck instead of offering them a blessing. It was a delightful conversation.

One meal we sat with a young lady named Dorothy who had been visiting her father in Los Angeles and was returning home to Garden City, Kansas. She was only 17, but already had a semester of pre-veterinary school behind her.

We also met Nick and Jean a mid 50s couple from Buffalo NY. They had been in Las Vegas visiting one of their sons. They have another 21 year old son who had played junior hockey in Canada and was still trying to find a way to break into the pros. I love hockey so we had quite an enjoyable conversation. They had even met the goalie of our local semi professional hockey team who we were informed was from their hometown of Buffalo.

It’s amazing how much people will open up about themselves, how unguarded they can be, when they know they will probably never see you again. I realized though that everybody we meet has something to teach us. In spite of differences in beliefs and philosophies, even personalities, most of us want the same things in life. We want to love and be loved. We want some freedom to express ourselves. And we want to have something that gives us significance, that gives us a reason for getting up tomorrow, to building something better for those we love.

26 hours after leaving Albuquerque we were back in Union Station in Chicago. Our children were there waiting for us. We made our way to our car. After several days away the familiarity of our own vehicle made it seem almost like we were back home. The 2 ½ ride to Michigan was pleasant and uneventful. We shared our experiences with our children. They told us of theirs. And we decided it would be quite a while before we would embark on anther adventure like this again.

Albuquerque and Back Part 2

It’s Wednesday evening about 8:00. The last couple of days were eventful, enjoyable, and challenging all wrapped up together. After we had an excellent breakfast Tuesday morning and got some ideas from our host, we decided to head for Santa Fe, the state capitol of NM, which is about an hour north of Albuquerque. At breakfast we had talked to another couple staying at the Bed and Breakfast who had gone to Santa Fe via a road called the Turquoise Trail. It is NM state highway 14 and runs parallel to I-25 which is the main road running north and south in NM.

The Turquoise Trail runs directly through the Sandia Mountains and divides several small towns that retain much of their original ancient architecture and character. We’ve been to many beautiful places in the U.S. and even in some of the Caribbean islands, but I think this is the most beautiful place I have seen. It’s both majestic and plain. The people here live simply in adobe structures. There are as many horses as vehicles in some of the villages we journeyed through. It’s a far different part of this country than what I’m accustomed to. It was refreshing.

After some lunch we headed for downtown Santa Fe. We drove around until we stumbled upon the state capitol. We found a parking spot, walked inside and were greeted by a couple of friendly middle age women who gave us a brochure and pretty much gave us the run of the place. It didn’t seem particularly busy and we were free to walk through the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors with no guidance or restrictions. Seeing it was the beginning of June, the house and senate weren’t in session, nor apparently was the Governor anywhere to be found. I’m guessing there are more restrictions in place if there are people to protect. Nevertheless it was very laid back, which seemed to be the general attitude everywhere we went in NM.

There can be no doubt about both the Spanish and Catholic influence in Santa Fe. The words Santa Fe apparently mean “holy faith” or something close to that. 2010 is the 400th anniversary of the founding of Santa Fe. Everywhere you turn there are 1600, 1700, and 1800 Catholic churches and cathedrals as the centerpiece of the community. Most of the place names are some combination of Spanish and local Indian languages. In a more modern concession to diversity we saw at least three Jewish synagogues and some Hindu centers of worship.

After making a full day of touring Santa Fe we headed south on I-25 back to Albuquerque. We decided to forego dinner and instead picked up a bottle of local red wine and some cheese and crackers and enjoyed the setting sun out on the balcony of our room. That turned out to be a little bit of a mistake.

After not sleeping well I woke up Wednesday morning feeling awful. I had no energy and couldn’t get myself out of bed to go to breakfast. My wife decided to go to breakfast without me with my encouragement. I’m glad she did. After describing to our host my symptoms she immediately knew my problem-altitude sickness. At higher elevations like Albuquerque the available oxygen in the air is less than at lower elevations like where I live in Michigan. The body needs to work harder to stay oxygenated and healthy. In addition the dry air of the southwest US, although very pleasant compared to the humidity I’m used to living in, is very dehydrating. Alcohol in any form also has a dehydrating effect on the body. So the two glasses of red wine I had the night before contributed to the effect. Some people are barely affected by the change, other are affected severely. Thankfully we identified my problem quickly and the solution is simple. Water, water, and more water, in addition to water with electrolytes added. Over a half gallon of water later over the next hour things starting coming back to normal.

Wednesday afternoon we visited a section of Albuquerque called Old Town. It is a strange combination of very old adobe structures and modern “adobe looking” buildings. It’s also an odd mixture of very nice local artwork, pottery, and jewelry contrasted with touristy type stuff like t-shirts, coffee mugs with pithy slogans, and other knick knacks you can find in almost any tourist stop across the country. All in all it has been a great couple of days. Tomorrow we hop on the train for home.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Albuquerque and Back Part 1

It’s 7:28 am on Tuesday morning. The sun has already been up for a couple of hours. The temperature has already passed 70 degrees with a promise of 100 before the afternoon is over. I’m sitting on the balcony of the Heritage House Bed and Breakfast (albuquerquebandb.com) in Albuquerque NM. I have a view of the downtown area that is partially obscured by trees. There is one of those artificial pools trickling water through its mini architecture down on the ground below me to my left. I also hear chickens clucking and a sheep raising its voice in the near distance. The Heritage House is part of the downtown historic district and is registered as an historic landmark. The house is somewhere over 100 years old and retains much of its original architecture. It’s all very pleasant, peaceful, and relaxing.

A couple of months ago our children surprised my wife and I with an Amtrak trip to the bed and breakfast of our choice in Albuquerque. My wife has been to this city before and had occasionally expressed an interest in returning some day. Apparently my children were listening. I was somewhat apprehensive about the train ride. I don’t always travel well over long distances in confined spaces. It is no doubt a throwback to my childhood where every car ride had the potential to be a motion sickness adventure. As I got older I have mostly gotten past that, but still, looking forward to a 26 hour ride each way on a train was presenting some mental challenges.

As it turns out the train ride was a surprisingly pleasant experience. Sure, the restrooms don’t work right at higher elevations and learning to walk down the narrow hallways and between cars of a vehicle moving as fast as 90 mph as it jostles back and forth on the rails presented some challenges. Still those small drawbacks seemed minor in comparison to the benefits. We had a sleeper car so we had some privacy as well as a dark, relatively quiet place to lie down at night. The meals are first class (think fine dining restaurant, not airline food).

The best part though was the people we met. Amtrak practices community dining, primarily because of space restrictions. So for instance my wife and I being two people were always seated with one or two other people we didn’t know. It’s all pretty random, mostly first come first serve. So for instance on our first meal on the train we ate dinner with Irene and Helge(pronounced Elya) a 60ish couple from Oslo, Norway. They were on a three week holiday touring the United States. They flew into NY and were eventually taking the train all the way to Los Angeles and ultimately flying out of San Francisco. Along the way they were stopping at several places across our country that most of us will probably never see?

The next morning we had breakfast with Jack, a retired Michigan State University professor from East Lansing MI who retired to start his own company that develops health products for animals. He was taking the train to La Junta CO to oversee a photo shoot of a well known rodeo star who was endorsing one of his company’s products.
I’m sure there will be more stories like that on the way home.

When we arrived at the train station in Albuquerque on Monday afternoon at 4:30 we were about 40 minutes late. We had arranged to pick up a rental car from a place that closed at 5pm. Knowing our time was limited we immediately went to the desk and inquired about the location of the rental car company we were looking for. Nobody could tell us. As the clock ticked toward 5:00 I called my daughter back in MI to see if she could track down some directions for us. What she was able to come up with was sort of vague, but it seemed like our destination was about 3 miles away. At this point it was too close to 5:00 to even track down a taxi and take us there.

What happened next is my favorite part of the trip and one of the many reasons I love my wife. She is a much more experienced traveler than I am, but she also has the ability to not get frustrated in pressure situations. As I was entering my, “what are we going to do now”, near panic mode, she calmly took out her phone. She called the 800 number for the rental car service, found out they had another location at the Albuquerque Airport which is open 24/7, had them change our reservation to that location and had me call a taxi to take us there. Problem solved! 45 minutes later we were at the Bed and Breakfast being greeted by the owner Kara Grant and her nine year old daughter Abby.

We had a nice, but expensive dinner at a local restaurant, came back to our beautiful room and got some rest.